CEO change coming to ELS

A final decision on the management transition at billionaire Sam Zell’s Chicago real-estate investment company Equity International will likely come soon, the property magnate said in an interview Tuesday (Oct. 16) posted on NASDAQ.com.

Zell is backing Thomas Heneghan, CEO of Equity LifeStyle Properties Inc. (ELS), to succeed Gary Garrabrant as Equity International’s next chief executive. Equity LifeStyle is one of Zell’s residential real estate companies with major holdings in RV parks and manufactured housing communities.

“It’s mechanical at this point,” he said. “I think it’s going to happen.”

The finalization of the appointment of the company’s next CEO depends not only on Zell’s choice but also on the approval of investors in Equity International’s most recently constituted funds.

“I would say everybody seems to be moving in the right direction,” Zell said.

Garrabrant and Thomas McDonald, formerly Equity International’s chief strategic officer, left the company last month in a surprising shake-up.

Zell and Garrabrant formed Equity International in the 1990s and invested primarily in emerging-market countries through various funds. Equity International has so far raised $2.1 billion for funds that have invested in property companies in places such as Brazil, Mexico and Eastern Europe.

Though questions have been raised about Heneghan’s international experience,  Zell expressed confidence in the likely next chief executive of Equity International, saying Heneghan has been working for him “in one form or another” for 25 years.

“Tom is a very sophisticated investor,” said Zell. “He currently runs a four-billion-dollar New York Stock Exchange company. I think he, for sure, will bring a new level of confidence and aggressiveness in the right way.”